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Pennsylvania

Trans candidate in Pennsylvania County Executive race concedes

Titus became the first out trans person to win election to public office in Pennsylvania in 2017 when they won a seat on the school board

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Dr. Tyler Titus via Twitter

ERIE – Erie school board president Tyler Titus conceded the race for Erie County Executive on Wednesday. Titus was behind by more than 4,000 votes shortly before midnight on Tuesday in their bid to become the nation’s first openly transgender and nonbinary person to win election as a county executive.

“Since launching my campaign, I’ve talked with so many people who found a home in our campaign, who found light and inspiration in our shared vision for an inclusive future. I’ve talked with countless transgender youth in Erie County and across the country who told me our campaign inspired them to strive for greater heights, defy expectations, and feel hope for a safer, brighter future,” Titus said in their concession statement.

Titus, a Democrat, had 28,253 votes, or 45.9 percent, compared to their Republican rival Brenton Davis, who had 32,786 votes, or 53.3 percent, with 147 of the county’s 149 precincts counted, according to the latest available returns on Tuesday night from the Erie County election board.

The Erie Times-News reported that Davis declared victory in the hotly contested county executive race shortly before midnight, claiming that the “math” from the vote count made it no longer possible for Titus to win.

It could not immediately be determined how many mail-in ballots were uncounted on Tuesday night, but the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed Titus and raised over $283,000 for their campaign, said it heard from sources that as many as 4,000 mail-in ballots had yet to be counted.

Josh Rosenbaum, Titus’s campaign manager, said election officials would resume counting ballots at 9 a.m. Wednesday. He said Titus would make a statement sometime on Wednesday. 

“The [Titus] campaign is going to review everything in the morning and make sure everything is in before they make a final decision one way or another,” Victory Fund spokesperson Elliot Imse told the Washington Blade.

Political observers said Titus ran an aggressive, well-funded campaign against Davis, who Titus supporters say appealed to anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ sentiment among some voters by accusing Titus of planning to impose an “unknown agenda” on Erie County.

Davis also criticized Titus for raising most of Titus’s campaign funds from donors who live outside of the county and outside of Pennsylvania. The Titus campaign raised just over $541,000 as of Nov. 1, more than double the amount raised by the Davis campaign. A significant percentage of the funds raised by the Titus campaign came through the fundraising effort of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the national group that raises funds for LGBTQ candidates running for public office throughout the country.

“Tyler Titus is continuing the sale of Erie County government to out-of-region donors who have pumped huge dollars into what is supposed to be a local political race,” the Davis campaign said in an Oct. 25 statement. “When somebody outside Erie County invests this kind of money in a county-level election, you can bet it’s not about improving the lives of people here,” the statement said. “It’s about imposing an unknown agenda with mystery dollars.”

The Titus campaign and its supporters called the Davis campaign’s claims about out-of-town donors with a hidden agenda an unfounded ruse aimed at diverting voters’ attention from the issues that Titus raised to improve the lives of Erie County residents.

During the campaign, Rosenbaum, Titus’s campaign manager, called Titus’s ability to raise money from supporters outside the county a sign that their ideas and positions on the issues enjoy widespread support.

“It’s exciting to us that there are people from all across Erie County, across Pennsylvania and some across the country who believe in Tyler’s message and Tyler’s ability to lead Erie County into a future that’s healthy, safe and prosperous for all of us,” Rosenbaum told the Erie Times-News. “It shows that Tyler is inspiring to so many people.”

Titus became the first out transgender person to win election to public office in Pennsylvania in 2017 when Titus won election to the Erie City school board. Fellow school board members later elected Titus to serve as president of the board.

In May of this year Titus won an upset victory in the Erie County Democratic primary in a four-candidate race to capture the nomination for the County Executive post. Most Democratic Party leaders in the county supported County Councilor Carl Anderson, whom Titus beat in the primary by a margin of just 218 votes. Following the primary, the Erie County Democratic Party and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party endorsed Titus and actively supported Titus’s campaign.

However, Democratic candidate Rita Bishop, who finished in fourth place in the primary and who identifies as a lesbian, announced she was breaking ranks with her party to endorse and actively support Republican Davis in the November election. 

In a controversial Facebook message on Oct. 25, Bishop posted five photos of Titus, in one of which Titus was wearing female clothes that was taken before Titus fully transitioned to their status as a transgender and nonbinary person.

“Who is the real Tyler Titus?” Bishop stated in her posting. “He doesn’t know.”   

The posting drew an immediate flurry of more than two-dozen postings by Facebook users denouncing Bishop for what they called a hurtful and hateful attempt to attack a transgender candidate.

Titus’s supporters said they were hopeful that what they considered an attempt by Bishop and GOP candidate Davis to use the trans issue to distract voters’ attention from Titus’s positions on how the Erie County government can be improved would be unsuccessful.

But some of Titus’s supporters said the anti-trans attacks by Davis supporters could be successful in alienating voters who otherwise might have supported the Democratic candidate for county executive. 

Titus has a master’s degree in community counseling and a doctorate degree in social work. Titus has worked in recent years as a licensed professional counselor operating a private counseling practice

Titus’s campaign website says Titus is married to Shraddha Prabhu, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University, “and the proud parent of two phenomenal children.”

Political observers have pointed out that Erie County is considered an election bellwether for the nation as well as for Pennsylvania, which they say could be predictive of whether Democrats or Republicans come out ahead in the 2022 congressional midterm elections. Donald Trump narrowly won Erie County in the 2016 presidential election and President Joe Biden won in the county by a close margin in 2020.

But in addition to Titus’s status as a transgender and nonbinary candidate, the Titus campaign stressed that Titus was a progressive who ran to the left of their Democratic primary rivals.

“The campaign is anchored by the belief that progressive policies are popular, and that when you speak directly to the values of the voter, you can win anywhere,” an Oct. 18 statement from the Titus campaign said.

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Pennsylvania

Black trans woman found dead in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

A person identified by a local Trans activist and support group SisTers PGH as Amarey Lej, a 21-year-old Black trans woman

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Courtesy of the Allegheny County Police Department

WILKINSBURG, Pa. – Homicide detectives in Allegheny County are investigating the shooting death of a person identified by a local Trans activist and support group SisTers PGH as Amarey Lej, a 21-year-old Black trans woman.

CBS News Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA 2 reported that police say they responded to 1300 block of Wood Street around 6 a.m. Saturday morning, New Year’s Day in this suburban Pittsburgh borough for reports of a woman lying in the street. Police said she had suffered a fatal gunshot wound.

“Amarey was a bright woman and former student at Woodland Hills. We at SisTers PGH would like to send her fellow classmates our deepest condolences, but also our deepest gratitude, as you rose in protection of Amarey when she needed it most,” SisTers PGH said in a statement on Facebook.

Pittsburgh’s independent press outlet, The Pittsburgh City Paper noted:

Lej, who is also known as Myara, is one of at least a half dozen trans people of color to die untimely deaths over the last 12 months in the Pittsburgh region. Chyna Carrillo was killed in Lawrence County, an hour north of Pittsburgh, on Feb. 18, 2021 and siblings Jasmine Cannady and Jeffrey “JJ” Bright were killed in Ambridge, just 30 minutes from the city, on Feb. 22, 2021. Audura Belle also died earlier the same month due to lack of health care, according to statements from her friends and family. Angel Naira was killed in Aliquippa in November.”

Nationally this past year with 50 deaths of Trans people, especially of color, was the worst year yet in violence perpetuated against Trans Americans the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks the data recorded.

“Amarey was not the first, but it is up to every one of us to fight like hell to make sure she is the last,” reads the statement from SisTers PGH. “This is our time, as trans people and activists, to gather and engage in conversations regarding safety and policy. It is our time to demand not only justice for Amarey, but for all of us.”

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Pennsylvania

Bucks County Pennsylvania school district removes LGBTQ+ books

The new policies puts LGBTQ+ students at greater risk for harm and additionally the policies raise serious legal concerns

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Pennridge School District faculty meeting Aug. 2021 (Photo Credit: Pennridge School District Facebook page)

PERKASIE, Pa. – The Pennridge School District in suburban Philadelphia’s Bucks County sent a district wide email out before the Christmas break to its elementary school administrators ordering the removal of books discussing gender identity.

In the email, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Anthony Rybarczyk instructs staff to locate the books in spaces accessible to counselors and parents/guardians only.

The decision to remove the LGBTQ+ books ignited further controversy when District leaders removed at least one book about LGBTQ identities, “Heather Has Two Mommies,” from all district elementary school libraries and sent an email notifying school officials that all books about gender identity should be removed from the shelves, Philadelphia’s PBS station, WHYY reported.

That reviewal process outlined in the email states that books will be reviewed for “sensitive topics involving foul language, intense violence, gender identity, and graphic sexual content.”

In addition to the gender identity book ban, Dr. Cheri Derr, Director of Pupil Services for Pennridge, also sent new instructions for school policies to guidance counselors, social workers, and nurses on Dec. 15 on how to address LGBTQ+ students.

Those instructions also cautioned staff to not  “discuss or use terms related to LGBTQ.”

Guidelines for Conversations with Students about LGBTQ Topics and Pregnancy

Elementary:

Usually the information about a student with gender identity exploration comes from the parent to let the counselor and school know and ask for us to be supportive of their child.

When a child wants a name change, we tell them we need to have a conversation with a grown-up because this is a grown-up decision and then we contact the parent.

When there is an instance of students being unkind or calling another student “gay”, the counselor will have a conversation with the student or sometimes the class about kindness, respect for each other, how we are similar and different. If there is name-calling such as calling someone “gay”, there are conversations about what we say and is it hurtful or kind. We do not discuss or use terms related to LGBTQ.

Resources are shared at parent request.

Middle School:

Formal name and pronoun changes are only made when the parent is aware of the student request and provides permission for us to make the change.

If a student comes to a counselor to request a name/pronoun change, but they do not want the parent to know, we will not make the change without parent permission. Counselors meet individually with the student and assess how serious the student is.

Counselors always have the goal of trying to get the student to agree to share the information with their parent. Counselors do not share information with the parent if there is no immediate concern for the student’s safety. If there comes a time that the counselor becomes concerned for the student’s safety, the parent would be notified.

If a teacher is asked by a student to use a different name/pronoun, they must notify the student’s counselor about this request so the counselor can have a conversation with the student.

Teachers do not use a different name/pronoun for a student until they receive official notification from the counselor that the parents have given permission for us to do so.

Resources are only shared with students when there is parent involvement. Mental health resources are shared unless the parent requests something specific. These resources are not shared with a student if a parent is not involved.

When we become aware of a student pregnancy, the parent is contacted and made aware.

High School:

Formal name and pronoun changes are only made when the parent is aware of the student request and provides permission for us to make the change.

If a student comes to a counselor to request a name/pronoun change, but they do not want the parent to know, we will not make the change without parent permission.

Counselors meet individually with the student and assess how serious the student is. Counselors always have the goal of trying to get the student to agree to share the information with their parent.

Counselors do not share information with the parent if there is no immediate concern for the student’s safety. If there comes a time that the counselor becomes concerned for the student’s safety, the parent would be notified.

Resources are only shared with students when there is parent involvement. Mental health resources are shared unless the parent requests something specific. These resources are not shared with a student if a parent is not involved.

If a teacher is asked by a student to use a different name/pronoun, they must notify the student’s counselor about this request so the counselor can have a conversation with the student.

Teachers do not use a different name/pronoun for a student until they receive official notification from the counselor that the parents have given permission for us to do so.

If a student shares that they are pregnant, the nurse/counselor asks the student if their parent/guardian is aware. If the parent/guardian is not aware, they facilitate a conversation with the student and parent/guardian or give the student time to tell the parent/guardian before they follow up in a few days.

Supports for students who are pregnant are coordinated through school nurse, counselor, social worker, student, and parent/guardian.

Resources for students who are pregnant are shared with the student and the family.

These guidelines are clear that students must get permission from a parent or guardian to change their pronouns or names, even if students don’t want to tell their parents. On the matter of students who are pregnant, those students must inform their parents or the school will inform them.

The new policies puts LGBTQ+ students at greater risk for harm says mental health experts and additionally, according to Witold Walczak, the legal director for ACLU Pennsylvania, the policies raise serious legal concerns.

Walczak told WHYY that he believes the new disclosure requirements for medical professionals, guidance counselors, social workers “raise very serious concerns about professional confidentiality requirements that they have.”

“From a policy perspective, you’re setting these students up for a situation where there is no adult that they can talk to,” Walczak said.

He said that the policy could result in young people becoming more vulnerable.

“Very often in these kinds of situations, parents are not an option,” said Walczak, “Sometimes parents are the problem. If you impose this disclosure requirement, you’re shutting the door to students being able to talk to school professionals. Some of these kids could really get hurt.”

According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, these kinds of barriers to gender affirmation lead to higher rates of suicide or depression amongst LGBTQ+ youth.

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania woman raises $20K for library after they were denied funds

Republicans Stuart Ulsh & Randy Bunch voted against approving the funding saying they believe the LGBTQ+ community is a hate group

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Fulton County Pennsylvania Library (Photo Credit: Fulton County Library)

FULTON COUNTY, Pa. — A Pennsylvania woman has raised over $20,000 for the Fulton County Library after two Republicans denied it $3,000 in additional funding because the library let a local LGBTQ+ support group host bi-weekly meetings in its public space.

Last week, the Fulton County News reported that county commissioners opted not to approve an additional $3,000 for the local library during a meeting discussing the county’s 2022 draft budget. 

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the library’s small county subsidy was slashed in half during the Great Recession. The additional $3,000 would have brought its total stipend back up to $15,000. 

According to the Fulton County News, the three-member panel voted 2-1 not to approve the funding — Commissioner Paula Shives was the lone vote in favor. Republicans Stuart Ulsh, chair of the Fulton County Commissioners, and Randy Bunch, vice-chair, were the votes against approving the funding. 

Shives reportedly asked for clarification on their votes, and both Ulsh and Bunch responded in their own words that they believe the LGBTQ+ community is a hate group. 

“If we support them, we have to support Proud Boys and Black Lives Matter,” said Bunch, who has received national attention for an 8-foot-high portrait of former President Donald Trump on the wall of his construction company. 

Ulsh agreed with Bunch and added: “Do we want Muslims moving into our county?” He then cited an internet conspiracy theory about a Muslim man being arrested with a 30-year blueprint for taking over America. According to a Snopes fact-check, the story is not true. 

Later, Bunch clarified his position with the Fulton County News. 

“I don’t hate anybody,” he told the newspaper. “I’m just saying that LGBTQ and any of those organizations make people upset. I personally think none of them need any part in Fulton County. I don’t dislike anybody; I just don’t want something that’s going to create friction between people.”

Fulton County Library Director Jamie Brambley told the Los Angeles Blade that she was “disheartened and disappointed” by the denial, especially because of the reasoning. “Usually we just get a denial,” she said.

When Emily Best, a 38-year-old former resident of Fulton County, saw the news, she decided to take matters into her own hands by starting a GoFundMe to help raise money for the Fulton County Library. The fundraiser has garnered over $20,000 as of Wednesday. 

“I was just like, well, I should just make a GoFundMe for this and try to raise that $3,000 and maybe a little extra to show the library and other people who aren’t of the majority in the community that there is support,” she told the Blade. “Then it just sort of blew up and now it’s over $20,000. So it’s just really, really crazy.”

Brambley said that the library is “overwhelmed” by the amount of support they are getting. “We are grateful to our community for supporting us in our mission and vision of providing open access libraries that are set up to be inclusive institutions to serve the entire community,” she said. “And we are proud to continue our service in that respect.”

Best, now a resident of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, said that most Fulton County is white, Christain and conservative. “Even though it is a large majority, every single person who lives there believes the exact same things and has the exact same identity,” she said. 

“I think, because it is such a big majority, elected officials and other influential members of the community think that they can just act as though every single person agrees with them all the time,” she said. “And that they have this huge mandate to ignore, or worse, denigrate other people who are different.”

According to election results, 85.31% of Fulton County residents voted for Trump in the 2020 election, the largest percentage of any county in Pennsylvania. Census data shows that nearly 97% of county residents are white. 

Though she has a strong network on Twitter, especially in Pennsylvania politics, she was not expecting the GoFundMe to spread as quickly as it did. 

“I figured we would make $5,000,” she said. “I just didn’t expect that we would make it by Friday morning, within 12 hours. Then it just started snowballing.”

Best said the library was a “big part” of the community and her life. Out of the many things the library had to offer — like internet, computer access, and children’s toys and puzzles — Best noted that she appreciated the selection of books, especially those that represented a different point of view. 

Overall, she is just thankful she could help. “I am happy I was at the right place at the right time to get this going and get the community the support that it needs.”

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